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By Riley Snyder July 12, 2016

TV ad by Senate Majority PAC misleads on Joe Heck's bank donations, proposed tax breaks

A pro-Democratic Super PAC with close ties to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid is spending roughly $850,000 on a new ad attempting to paint Republican Rep. Joe Heck as a creature of Wall Street.

Senate Majority PAC’s new ad suggests that banks "invested" in the Republican Senate hopeful through campaign donations, and that their investment paid off.

"They’ve invested over $300,000 in him, and Heck has sponsored $44 million dollars in tax breaks for banks," the ad states.

This ad marks one of the largest chunks of outside spending in the highly competitive Nevada Senate race. But claiming banks invested in Heck and then received tax breaks takes an acrobatic chronology of what actually happened.


Over his entire congressional career, Heck has actually raised more than the $300,000 amount from the banking industry referenced in the ad. The most recent figure from the "secruities and investment" category on the nonpartisan is $473,819.

However, this is a career-wide total, and it includes the $381,700 raised for his ongoing Senate run. Heck raised $92,119, a much more modest figure, for his other three congressional runs combined.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s worth taking the typically massive size of congressional fundraising hauls into consideration.

For example, Heck’s $35,472 in donations from the "securities and investment" industry during his successful 2014 re-election bid is a drop in the bucket compared to the total $2.4 million raised throughout that campaign.

And as for references to "investing," the tax breaks mentioned in the ad actually refer to a bill Heck championed as a state senator — years before the $300,000 in donations referenced in the ad.

Heck did take campaign funds from banks and their associated PACs during this time. A PolitiFact tally found that Heck received around $21,800 from the banking industry through his four years in the state Senate.

Again, that isn’t a small figure, but it’s a much smaller amount than what Heck raked in from the state’s casino giants and the medical industry over the same time period.

Tax breaks

Regardless of the donations, Heck did sponsor an ultimately failed piece of legislation in the state Senate that sought to reduce the payroll tax burden on Nevada financial institutions — what the ad calls "$44 million in tax breaks for banks."

Though the ad prominently features a looming image of the U.S. Capitol Dome, the bill would have only applied to Nevada banks.

We’ve previously explored the somewhat confusing history of Nevada’s payroll tax (also called the Modified Business Tax, or MBT), created as a compromise to fund new K-12 education programs during a fierce 2003 battle over new taxes.

State lawmakers historically fiddle with the exact rates and exemptions levels for the payroll tax, but there has been one constant — banks and other financial institutions are charged at a higher rate than any other business (2 percent), and also pay so-called "franchise taxes" for each branch office past the first one in each county ($7,000 a year).

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Nevada bankers have long grumbled about the higher tax rates, and have attempted to reduce them back down to the level paid by other state businesses, most recently in 2015.

That’s what Heck was doing in 2007 when he introduced SB 233, which proposed rolling back the payroll tax rate on banks to the level applied to other state businesses and repealing the "franchise tax" for multiple branch offices.

Saying the bill was about "equity and fairness," Heck argued that the higher rate applied to banks created more tax revenue than projected and stifled the industry’s economic growth.

"This could be a bill about basket weavers," he said at a committee hearing. "This bill is about an inequitable system that singles out an industry for a tax the rest of business and industry does not pay."

Democrats on the committee said banks were uniquely prepared to handle a higher tax burden, and that they weren’t suffering at the time despite the higher taxes.

"I have not seen a bank go out of business in this state; the banks I am aware of are setting record profits," Democratic state Sen. Mike Schneider said during a hearing on the bill.

As for the tax-cut figure, both the state’s Taxation Department and Heck himself estimated the legislation would cost the state around $44.2 million in revenue — a little more than $38 million in payroll taxes and another $5.9 million by axing the branch franchise tax.

Heck pointed out that those cuts would make up less than 1 percent of the state’s $6.9 billion two-year budget. The bill itself would have affected around 2,450 Nevada businesses at the time, and the amended version would have lowered the tax for the 55,000 businesses paying the payroll levy.

Heck wasn’t the only Republican leading the charge on reducing the tax burden for banks, as former Gov. Jim Gibbons made repealing the bank franchise tax a priority in his 2007 State of the State address.

Ultimately, the bill went nowhere. After being amended and passed out of committee, Senate leaders placed it in legislative limbo and let it expire without any more votes.

Although lawmakers approved major changes to the state’s payroll tax in 2015, the higher rate on financial institutions hasn’t changed since 2003.

Senate Majority PAC spokesman Shripal Shah said the measure indicated to the banking industry that Heck would be in their corner if elected to Senate.

"Banks have invested in Joe Heck's campaigns because they know he has a history of working for their interests and would continue doing their bidding in the Senate if he has the opportunity," he said in an email.

Regardless, this isn’t the first time Heck’s opponents have tried to ding him over the proposal. Democratic Congresswoman Dina Titus criticized him over it during a 2010 debate between the two House candidates.

Heck responded with largely the same language he used in testifying for the bill in 2007, saying the point was to make the state’s tax system more equitable.

Our ruling

A new ad from Senate Majority PAC claims banks "have invested over $300,000 in him, and Heck has sponsored $44 million dollars in tax breaks for banks."

The implication that funds raised from the banking industry were an "investment" in Heck is highly misleading. The majority of bank donations came during Heck’s current run for U.S. Senate, nine years after sponsoring a bill that would have lowered the payroll tax rate for banks.

Because it’s so misleading, we rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Email interview with Anna Thornley, President of Nevada Taxpayers Association, June 11, 2016

Email interview with Brian Baluta, Dr. Joe Heck for U.S. Senate spokesman, June 11, 2016

Email interview with Shripal Shah, Communications Director of Senate Majority PAC, June 6-12, 2016

Dr. Joe Heck For U.S. Senate, "Fact check of Harry Reid super PAC’s latest $900,000 smear of Dr. Joe Heck," June 1, 2016

PolitiFact, "Candidate claiming that Nevada cut taxes in 2015 doesn't pass muster," March 29, 2016

Politico, "Reid, Boxer help out Senate Dems," August 20, 2012

Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Heck, Titus sharp in matchup," Oct. 15, 2010

Associated Press, "Nevada lawmakers seeking repeal of banking tax," March 23, 2007

Jim Gibbons, State of the State address, January 22, 2007

Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Nevada banking advocates lobby to overturn extra tax," Nov. 24, 2004

The American Banker, "Nev. Tax Hike Could Deter Branch Expansion," July 25, 2003

Associated Press, "Legislature gives final approval to $811 million tax plan," July 22, 2003

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TV ad by Senate Majority PAC misleads on Joe Heck's bank donations, proposed tax breaks

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